Jonah 2:4. Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight. After what we have heard of the misguided and offending conduct of Jonah, we need not wonder to find him sinking into deep dejection and distress. He is now in the stomach of the fish, at the bottom of the mountains, crying to the Lord, while his reflections upon his past conduct are filling him with the bitterest anguish. He was an Israelite, but now cast away, and fearing it will be his lot to die among the heathen, where no eye will pity him. He was a prophet, an ambassador of the Lord of hosts, but is now cast off and rejected, and God will employ him no more. He had enjoyed communion with heaven, and cherished the hope of eternal life; yet he now finds himself “in the belly of hell.” Poor Jonah what a situation, and to what a length did his fears lead him. All this he said: but happily for him it was not so. It was the language of his fears, which had brought him to this extremity. The Lord had not cast him off, though he was cast into the sea, and would in due time send him deliverance.
Good men in all ages are as much distinguished by their fears as by their hopes, by what they deprecate as by what they possess and enjoy. The unhappy prophet is distressed by the thought of banishment from God. I said, I am cast out of thy sight. I must see his face no more. He was in effect cast out of the world, and out of the sight of men. This however did not so much affect him: but oh, I am cast out of thy sight! This to a pious mind is the greatest of all conceivable ills, the very essence of misery itself, and can nohow be estimated but by the love of God having been shed abroad in the heart.
Yet will I look again toward thy holy temple. Perilous as was his situation, and great as had been his misconduct, he would still indulge a little hope, and once more look towards the temple, the altar, and the mercy seat sprinkled with atoning blood. Praying towards the temple, when in distant lands and in deep distress, had the promise of acceptance; thither therefore would he direct his groans and his sighs. 1 Kings 8:38-39.
This was not the first time that Jonah had looked for mercy from the bleeding altar, and he was therefore now encouraged to look again, hoping it might not be in vain. He who has once tried this means of relief will try it again: and oh how good it is, not to be a stranger to prayer, but to know where to look and what to do in a time of trouble. Jesus is now to us all that the temple and the altar were to the Hebrews; he is the true propitiatory, able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him.
Jonah 2:5. The weeds were wrapped about my head. The prophet was some time in the seas before his deliverance came.
Jonah 2:9. I will pay that which I have vowed; a sacrifice in Jerusalem with thanksgiving; for he knew when he composed this eloquent song that God would save him.
REFLECTIONS. CHAP. 1, 2.
The reprieve of Nineveh is one of the most instructive events of national history. The patriarch Assur, advancing up the Tigris, found a hill on the eastern shore on which he built the city, calling it Nineveh, or beautiful; a salubrious and inviting abode.
This city flourished and encreased for thirteen hundred years. Ninus built, or rather began the walls, eighteen miles in length, and twelve in breadth, which included the villas and the pleasure grounds, as well as the city. Its walls were a hundred and twenty feet high, and the projecting towers fifteen hundred in number, twice as high as the walls. Nineveh was the northern metropolis, and Babylon the winter metropolis of the great Assyrian empire. She had extended her conquests and cruelties as far as Troy in the north, and Ecbatana in the east, and latterly had began to conquer all the powers of western Asia. Her own historians admit that she branded her slaves in the forehead; and the Hebrew prophets call her the bloody city, the city full of lies, full of robbers, from whose mouth the prey departed not. They warn her by the fall of No-hammon, the Thebes of Egypt, a cöeval city, that she should fall also by siege and storm; yea, fall to rise no more. See on Nahum, and on Ezekiel 30:15.
But oh, shall heaven strike without a full and open warning, and take advantage of worms of the dust! Shall the guilty perish in ignorance, as in crime? Oh no: the prophet Jonah, famed in Israel for prayer, and learned in languages and in poësy, was called of God to go and cry against the guilty city. His mission was that of terror and destruction, the gracious words of Christ, except ye repent, being understood. But these treasures of grace were hid, even from Jonah himself. Jonah shrunk at the terrific mission; for he knew by praying for Israel in the time of extremity, that God was merciful and gracious. Jonah however was not the only prophet that had shrunk. Moses feared to go to Pharaoh, and Elijah had requested to die, that he might cease from conflicts with those who had killed the prophets.
Jonah, to avoid the pursuing calls of his God, went down to Joppa, and embarked for Carthage, a city as far to the west as Nineveh was to the east. But Messiah, ever with his servants, would allow of no delinquency in the high duties of a prophet. He made him an example to other ministers, who shrink from the harsher duties of their office. The tempest gathered black, and the waves fought against the ship. The seamen having exhausted their strength, threw the cargo into the sea to save their lives. Necessity is a hard weapon. Each was warned to pray to his god. Jonah, poor Jonah meanwhile was in his berth, fast asleep, for it is likely that his eyes had long been strangers to sleep. The master of the vessel roused him, as a profane person, insensible of danger, and unprepared for death.
Some of the more experienced seamen now began to have their thoughts, that this was no common storm; and that they had some notorious culprit on board. The hint was no sooner dropped than believed, for in extremities we think of our sins. Each being conscious of purity from innocent blood, boldly called for the lot, and the lot fell upon Jonah. Ay, and it shall fall on every other Jonah, who seeks in vain to fly from God.
He was summoned to the bar on the open deck, and each with eager looks began to read awful things in the countenance of a murderer, a robber of the temples, or one outrunning his country with the bread of widows and orphans. They scarcely breathed, awaiting the extraordinary confession. But behold, it was the countenance of piety in error, of virtue in distress, of wisdom under a cloud. The confession is truly astonishing. I fear God, and am a prophet of the Hebrews. The Lord bade me go and cry against Nineveh, but my fears have conquered me, and I flee from the presence of the Lord to a land of exile. Oh most strange, but ingenuous confession.
The strong tide of passion, in all the ship's company, now turned by the force of truth. They believed his words, and asked what they should do with him. “Take me, said he, and cast me into the sea, for I know that for my sake this great tempest is come upon you.” The sailors, fearing God, made another effort to save the ship, but all in vain: justice would accept of no compromise. So they were compelled to give the deep the required sacrifice, imploring mercy, and offering sacrifice for blood.
Think of this, thou slumbering sinner, on the verge of hell. Think of this, thou apostate professor, departing from a God, from whom thou canst not flee. And thou temporising pastor, who sometimes castest thy regards on the proud, on the oppressors, on the seducers, on the infidel; why dost thou shrink from duty for fear of the Assyrians. Why dost thou sometimes dine with that Herod, and art silent about his bosom sin? Art thou not afraid of the abyss, deeper than the sea. Dost thou get bread for the cure of souls, and deny them the heavenly bread? Wilt thou destroy thy soul, and the souls committed to thy care, through the fear of man?